I just tweeted to 10.3K people that nothing makes me feel more optimistic about the future of higher ed than reading the self-introductions by a new class of HASTAC Scholars. I lied. Something else makes me feel even more optimistic: I feel even more inspired is seeing HASTAC Scholars introduce themselves to one another, making connections across universities and across fields. If they keep these up, these networks will support them throughout their academic career, in university and beyond.
Why that inspires me so much is that the HASTAC Scholars form one of the very few networks in higher education where the prestige, cost, status, or fame of the individual university matters far less than the voluntary participation by a spirited group of graduate and undergraduate students who have figured out that there is something out there more and other than what they are finding on their campus. That is not to say there is something wrong with any campus, anywhere. It is to say that, if you are a HASTAC Scholar, you are likely to want to connect with other leaders from as diverse a background as possible.
Universities do a lot of tweaking of their admissions criteria to try to ensure diversity but cost is such a barrier that the majority of students at any one university tend to share very key similarities. In the HASTAC Scholars Program, you connect with a world much closer to the diversity of the real world in its complexity. And you do it voluntarily. There are no dues. There are also no requirements. You don't get "kicked out" unless you are a bully (hey! hundreds and hundreds of scholars later, I don't think we've ever had to ask someone to stop being a Scholar for bad behavior--is that true, Fiona? Wow. Inspired again).
Think about this: the top ten schools in the infamous U.S. News and World Reports teach only about .3% of the population of college students in the U.S. That is a more extreme divide than the infamous "1%" of income inequality brought to our attention by the Occupy movement. Yet almost all the forms and norms and apparatus of contemporary higher education originate and emanate from the universities teaching the .3%. That is wrong. It is bad for everyone, for higher education, for success, and even for the .3%.
Most of the apparatus of contemporary higher education began at the Ivy Leagues between 1865 and 1925. At that time, about 20% of the nation's student population attended public school. The Land Grant University was brand new. Almost all education in the US was private. Now it is the opposite. About 80 or 82% of our students attend public universities, not private ones. Yet nationally, we have been starving our public universities of funding--with repercussions to the less financially endowed private universities too (escalating costs, limited national and state scholarship funding, declining research funding, a declining middle class).
You cannot and should not have a unitary model of education in a system as diverse as the U.S. non-system of higher education. One reason there was such an outcry against MOOCs in recent years is that, once again, it seemed like those teaching and administering at the .3% would dictate terms to everyone else, top down.
HASTAC, by contrast, is a peer-created network. There is no syllabus. No membership dues. No rules except engaged, respectful, energetic participation. It's the opposite of college admission. It's the opposite of SATs. It's the opposite of a higher education non-system governed by the norms, status, and distinctions of the .3%. Nor is it dismissive and disrespectful of that .3% rather. As is HASTAC's motto: DIFFERENCE IS NOT OUR DEFICIT, IT IS OUR OPERATING SYSTEM.
The #1 bestseller in the country right now is a book I find pretty obnoxious, Excellent Sheep, which argues that elite education makes smart, docile, passive sheep. I think a system intrinsically based on income inequality and selective privilege does that--why blame students who are just beginning their careers for a system they did not invent! Yet, it is not easy to get beyond one's insular class and life. Not in school, not in the workplace, not in life.
HASTAC Scholars work hard to do that. Because we believe that, like those who created the Internet with an open architecture to which anyone could contribute, the final product is far better when those who do not share assumptions, skills, and backgrounds contribute to it.
We invite participation from everyone, including those (I really do hate this term) "excellent sheep" who are irate about that label. Why not spread all that is rich and exciting from the .3%, all that bounty? Not top down. Networked. But in a network that extends far, far beyond elite walls to all that is rich and exciting from the 99.7%, all that bounty.
What is truly exciting is that your school of origin no longer matters in this open network. You are now all HASTAC Scholars and those numbers are meaningless. What matters is you, your contribution, what you make of it, how you connect, and how you learn from one another, inspire one another, and, yes, how you inspire all the rest of us too.
Welcome, HASTAC Scholars. May it be another great year!